Rick Perry’s Galileo Analogy Was Embarrassingly Flawed

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At least he knows who Galileo was.
At least he knows who Galileo was. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

You knew that at some point last night, the moderators at the Republican debate were going to bring up some of the recent scientific controversies that have so appalled the East Coast media elite. Disappointingly, they didn't force the candidates to declare whether or not they believe in evolution. But they did put Rick Perry, the race's most prominent anti-science candidate, on the spot over his insistence that man-made climate change was merely a hoax. How could he be so skeptical when the vast majority of scientists — experts who know a hell of a lot more about the subject than he does — insist that it's real? Perry's response was unexpected, counter-productive, and frankly embarrassing.


Well, I do agree that there is — the science is — is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.

Galileo, of course, was punished for supporting the Copernican view of the heliocentric universe — not very popular at the time — and his theory was eventually vindicated. So, Perry argues, who can say whether the tiny minority of scientists who refute the idea of man-made climate change won't be vindicated as well?

There is a parallel between Galileo and the debate over climate change, but it's not the one Perry intended to make. Galileo's groundbreaking scientific findings were not "outvoted" by other scientists, but by the clergy and the Vatican, who based their astronomical theories on the rigorous scientific tome known as the Bible. What the Galileo example really demonstrates is that ideology has been used as a weapon and shield against actual empirical evidence for hundreds of years. And it continues to this day, courtesy of political leaders like Pope Perry.

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